Clean Break, the company that transforms the lives of ex prisoners through theatre are in celebratory mood. This is their 40th anniversary year and what an amazing and bravely innovating idea it was when two former inmates got together to start the company and bring new hope and life for women prisoners emerging from the criminal justice system.
Clean Break have a slew of events lined up with Inside Bitch kicking off the celebrations.
The show certainly gets them off to a flying if cheekily bumpy start in what is a kind of return to the founders’ original intention which was to reflect and serve its constituency – former women prisoners.
In the early days, the plays were either written by ex-cons or acted by them. Retraining through theatre skills was at the very heart of the Clean Break mission.
Since then, plays have often been written by established writers and performed by professional actors. Inside Bitch, whilst performed by professional theatre practitioners prides itself on the fact that all have previously served time.
So they know the terrain, literally, inside out. Their experiences form the bedrock of a show which itself is something of a free-form, comic book tribute to an anarchic spirit which refuses to be beaten down by life’s trials and tribulations.
In essence, what directors/devisers Stacey Gregg and Deborah Pearson have sought to do is disrupt: disrupt our idea of women in prison, disrupt the idea of what we think a piece of theatre about women in prison should be about. And at the same time, cast a subversively caustic eye over the representations of women in prison that turn up on our tv or cinema screens such as Bad Girls, Prisoners in Cell Block H, and the rest: commercialised, fetishised and melo-dramatised for effect.
Inside Bitch runs counter to all of this. It’s playful, it subverts constantly the idea of `good theatre’, and despite only being an hour, it is, sometimes, bewildering.
Using a similar concept to Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence’s Still No idea (also recently in this very theatre) – creating a show before our very eyes and asking for audience participation to do so – Gregg and Pearson and their cast, Lucy Edkins, Jennifer Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar and Jade Small, embark on a helter-skelter journey carving out how a tv show of their lives might unfold.
Using a mixture of video, verbatim dialogue, games, dressing up, audience participation and the occasional monologue, what emerges is tantamount to sitting in on a crazy brain storming session with personal stories of prison experiences embedded within.
A list at the start indicates memories prison conjures up for them – `bullying, drugs, horrible people, knickers on radiators’.
Four stories emerge which become their adopted characters as they attempt to build a `narrative arc’. Later there will be `the pitch’, the setting, the costumes and post production. And even a handful of pre-emptive reviews – `unfocussed’ being one of the adjectives used to describe the show which it might be all too easy, and unkind, to agree with!
The surprising thing is that despite the apparent mayhem and underlying tensions that allude to the ever present violence prison presents, the ebullience and personality of the four performers – and a very attentive stage manager, Crystal – create something far more uplifting than their experiences and the context would suggest.
Each has their own vivid quality but all four interact with each other with a quirky, derisive humour that also makes it very intimate.
Jennifer Joseph provides an especially moving backbone of painful reality as a mother relating the effect on her children whilst TerriAnn Oudjar’s irrepressible sense of fun acts as a constant puckish, two fingers up deflater.
Messy but an enjoyable counter-balance to the usual women-in-prison scenarios. Roll on Clean Break. Never stop!
Presented by Clean Break
Conceived by Stacey Gregg and Deborah Pearson
Devised with Lucy Edkins, Jennifer Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar, Jade Small
Assistant Director: Milli Bhatia
Designer: Camilla Clarke
Choreographer: Yassim V Foster
Lighting Designer: Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer: Ella Wahlström
Video Artist: Edie Morris
Voice Coach: Emma Woodvine
Stage Manager on the book: Tamsin Withers
Stage Manager on the floor: Crystal Gayle
Outside Eye: Laura Dannequin
First perf of Inside Bitch at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London, Feb 27, 2019. Runs to March 23.
Review published on this site, March 7, 2019